Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Don't Blame the Bishops

Damian Thompson has a provocative post in which he asks, "Is Pope Benedict losing the confidence of the Latin Mass faithful?" He points out that since the publication of Summorum Pontificum the provision of TLM there has been barely an increase in its availability. Damian blames the bishops, this is unfair, Summorum Pontificum specifically places the onus on parish priests to meet peoples demands, it is only if the priest is unable to meet the people's request that the bishop is to be involved, if he can't help then Rome becomes involved.

Damian fears that the freedom given to the traditional Mass by the Pope will not outlive his pontificate but I think that Damian fails to understand the clever thing about this document, unlike any other document that has been issued in the last 50 years, is that it gives authority to priest, it creates a grassroots movement at parish rather than diocesan level. A right having been given by one Pope is not going to be taken away by another. The other significant thing is that the TLM is now visible, it is being discussed in Seminaries, being celebrated, at least occasionally in our Cathedrals, it is no longer treaty as the bogeyman.

I really do think that it is unfair to blame the bishops. My own bishop, who I doubt would ever want to celebrate the TLM, has asked at least one newly ordained priest to learn to say it and has asked repeatedly for someone to say it in another part of the diocese. Bishops of the past maybe culpable for not insisting their clergy have a knowledge of the language of the Church, and for demonising the liturgy of their youth and Bishops of the present, like their priests, cling to what they know, they don't understand and therefore do not encourage the Pope's reforms, but that is far from standing in their way, or acting against them, as some might suggest.

In the United States one can expect large congregations at the TLM, in this country unless it is High Mass or a Missa Cantata the congregations tends to be reasonably small, and outside of London or the ancient University Cities reasonably elderly, but then American congregations tend to be five or tens times larger than the average UK congregation. Here in Brighton at our monthly Sunday TLM the congregation is smaller than our weekday Masses.

For those who are unhappy about the availability of the TLM, there is good news, most seminarians I know want to celebrate it when they are ordained and a small stream of older priests are relearning it and want an opportunity to celebrate it. I even hear that a "trained liturgist" or two are learning it. Pope Benedict has set something going that will not bear fruit in his life time but already there are green shoots.

One big problem that Damian doesn't address is that a whole generation has grown up where traditional catholic worship is something they have never experienced. Liturgy and prayer has changed drastically in this generation, young couples arranging their wedding talk of the hymns of their youth, the 80s, as being traditional. They have little understanding of how to pray, either privately or liturgically, unless it is the style of a pentecostal praise service, they are ill catechised, with hardly any knowledge of scripture.

When younger people do encounter the TLM, especially with its chant, unless they are totally bored, they meet something that is truly "extraordinary", it teaches them how to pray, how to be silent in the presence of the God. It opens the door to the whole treasury of Catholic spirituality. For the most part their encounter with the Church's Tradition is going to be through the Ordinary Form, well celebrated and with roots in rich humus of the Church's spiritual riches. Reform of the Reform is a more realistic option than a wholesale and immediate return to the TLM, but my experience is the more people are exposed to the Ancient Rite, the more they are drawn to it, that applies to priests as well as laity.


Henry said...

It seems to me that the way forward will be for parish priests to make the change to the EF gradually, by switching the Novus Ordo Mass to Latin, which can be done at a pace which will not disturb congregations and provide the opportunity for them to learn the Latin bit-by-bit, with small changes being made every so often. The change to EF would not then be a drastic one.

Obviously the demographics of a parish are important. A cosmopolitan city centre parish could make the changeover quite easily, whereas in a suburban parish with young families, the change might best be made at a more leisurely pace by involving the schools through instruction of the children in Latin and chant.

The important thing is not speed, but that momentum should be maintained.

hugo said...

Let us be blunt about this. If the Pope were to die tomorrow, he would be remembered for many fine achievements, most of all his encyclicals, but his liturgical reforms would peter out.

Though often on target, I think Mr. Thompson is dead wrong here. Whatever Pope Benedict does or doesn’t do henceforth, whether or not a new document is issued, when or whether he celebrates a papal TLM, whoever the next pope is, I believe the die has been cast.

Summorum Pontificum changed everything, setting in motion historical forces whose effects are inevitable. Though not necessarily in the form of TLM’s springing up everywhere within a year or two.

It would hardly be realistic to expect an immediate about face in a parish or diocese whose pastor or bishop is dead set against it, and doesn’t much care what the Pope thinks.

But every bishop or pastor who’s a roadblock now will in due course be replaced by one of the current young seminarians and priests of the restoration. Call it the “biological solution” if you wish. But I’d call it the Benedictine solution.

Ma Tucker said...

Maybe Bishop Conry could ensure that all understand it and what it represents. The reason I say this is that many people are estranged from the Faith, priests included (at least intellectually). I know it was true for me that encountering this Mass was like a reawakening. I just wonder whether a workshop or two just to familiarise priests and laity with it might be the ticket. There is nothing to loose and all to gain. Not only that, if things get rough in this country the Catholic Church has enough enemies to effect another persecution. Her persecutors will not care whether you classify yourself trad or lib. The important thing for Catholics is that they are prepared to carry this cross as Christ has taught us. We need to sanctify ourselves and fast. It's relatively easy to be "nice" to one another when things are rosy. When it starts to hurt that's quite a different story and it can get very black very quickly. The fact is we are not prepared and ready. Very poor catechesis and poor Liturgical practice has really weakened us. So please pray for Bishop Conry to lead on this one. This strategy of relying on "the faithful" is a complete waste of time. If you want to know why read Cardinal Newman. Fr. Dubay does a nice summary:

The Truth p. 6

PeterHWright said...

Yes, I think Henry's comment is about right.

You can establish a personal parish for the exclusive use of the "old" Mass relatively quickly, but it takes time to reintegrate the "old" Mass into normal parish life, where it must co-exist with the novus ordo. This must be done, as Henry puts it, at a more leisurely pace, and not without catechesis.

The way forward for most priests (and the priest must feel comfortable with the arrangement) is to reintroduce the "ad orientem" position in the novus ordo (not necessarily to the exclusion of celebrating "versus populum" : there are after all such things as movable table altars).

In St. Mary Magdalen's, for example, the focal point of the building is the high altar, so it is logical that that is where the sacred action should take place.

This alone would represent a massive shift in emphasis in the manner of celebrating, and assisting at, Mass, without the priest having to learn all the fiddling about in the rubrics of the "old" Missal.

The priest processes through the sacred space of the sanctuary and up the steps to the altar of God, while the people in mind and heart follow him. It is a powerfully symbolic act which should never have been lost.

In the spirit of "mutual enrichment", the priest can introduce elements from the old Mass into the novus ordo.

In time, one of the parish Masses will almost inevitably "morph" into an old Mass, possibly a Missa Cantata.

This, it seems to me, is the way forward.

Will the people go for it ? Well, why not ? They would still have within the one parish the choice of Latin/English, ad orientem or versus populum, depending on which Mass they go to.

Momentum is maintained, and as another blogging priest once put it, it's not rocket science !

P.S. I've just read Hugo's comment. I would add one thing : Numquam abrogata means just that. And there's no going back.

Onward !

Fr Ray Blake said...

At the moment our altar is far from the focus, see here:
unfortunately the barbarians got to work on it in the 70's.

Jane said...


Thank you so much for your post. I found Damian's most depressing, not so much because of his criticism of the Bishops, one has become used to that, but because the comments it occasioned ranged from insults to the integrity and intentions of the Holy Father, through to genuine ignorance on the part of puzzled non-Catholics who don't understand our preoccupation with the paramount nature of belief in the Blessed Sacrament as the Fountainhead of everything. From this springs all truly effective apostolic action. And that as I understand it is an importand aspect of our Pope's own theology of the Mass. I have never believed differently but I've waited 40 years for him to come along and reaffirm it.

Perhaps Damian wanted to chivvy us all up. Sadly that has not been the result. He has merely disturbed a hornet's nest of calumny, or impatience, or dissatisfaction, or all three. And it does noone any good.

I don't know how old Damian is but most of his regular commenters are a good deal younger than I am (65)and maybe because of those patient 40 years in the wilderness, I can see the big picture and continue to be patient now.

You and Fr Z have injected a much needed note of faith, hope, common sense and positive thinking into what would otherwise have been a most depressing evening.

'Rome' will not, cannot be rebuilt in a day. But rebuilt it will be. And God has given Pope Benedict, the task of lifting the first agonisingly heavy stone back into position. He should have the support of every prayer, every Mass we can muster.

Thank you again. I'm off now to my own blog to write about it, strengthened and encouraged by what I've read on yours.

Assurance of prayers,

In Christo pro Papa,


Volpius Leonius said...

WE seem to have a bit of a catch 22 going on.

For more people to be exposed to it we need more masses, particularly Sunday Masses.

Volpius Leonius said...

And I think you can blame the Bishops, they are not doing their part, they should be providing a Latin Mass at the cathedral on a Sunday.

Fr Ray Blake said...

"...they should be providing a Latin Mass at the cathedral on a Sunday."

Our Cathedral has one priest, he also seves a contemplative convent. He already has three Masses.
Which Mass should he change?
I am not sure how much Latin he has and I don't know if there is much demand in Arundel.

Simon Platt said...

Dear Father,

I'm afraid I'm with Volpius. I think that the traditional mass should be a part of normel parish life, not separated out as it still often is to a Sunday afternoon thing. And that this should apply to cathedrals a fortiori. And that bishops should make it happen.

Fr Ray Blake said...

But how? There are five priests in the diocese who would consider themselves idoneus, most of those are overstretched running busy parishes on there own where twenty years ago there were three priests.

Most priest ordained in the last 30years have no Latin.

PeterHWright said...

Many thanks, Father, for reference to the website, but I couldn't get the webpage to open !

Dear me.
So St. Mary Magdalen's, one of Brighton's oldest Catholic churches, has lost its old high altar ? Well, the fact remains that the site of the old high altar, in front of the tabernacle and gradine, and under the east window remains the focal point of the church. I don't suppose the liturgical vandals considered this.

I knew about the forward altar, and the sludgy grey paint on the walls, but I didn't know they'd removed Blount's old altar. That really is barbaric. Presumably, they did this before the building was listed.

I imagine funds aren't available to put it back. Too many other things need doing.

I last saw the church in, I think, 1968 or 1969, and all these years, I thought the old high altar had escaped the wreckovators. I'm so sorry.

Marie said...

The comments on that blog make my flesh creep. DT seems to collect a lot of beligerent sede vacantists around him.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Peter, I am determine we do something with it next year, though there is no money, and other repairs to be done.

ffn said...

Regardless Benedict will be dead soon and even those who welcome his pontifcate,have to welcome that of his succesor,whatever it brings,thank god I believe inthe infallibity of PPs rather han popes life is so much simpler

ffn said...

Fr, never mind vague hints in the blogsophere tell the lazy arses in the pews on Sundays to dig deep, if they apprecite and desire the rich heritage of the Church put their money where their mouth is and stop moaning

Laurence England said...

Father, I met a 24 year old chap called Ed tonight. An altar server in a band called the Guillotines. Great band name! Said he's lapsed but goes to Mass every now and then.

I said I'm sure he'd be wonderful altar serving at SMM should he ever wish to. He said he used to love the Latin Mass when he was younger. He spoke very fondly and enthusiastically about it, even though he is 24. Small world, eh?

David said...

Father, I would say that in some of the Scottish dioceses there is a sense of fear amongst priests in being seen to have anything to do with the traditional liturgy. Summorum Pontificum said one thing but Archbishop Conti has told his priests another thing - that there is no reason why they should be offering the TLM in the Glasgow Archdiocese, that any desire for it is a mere "hankering after the past".

So whilst, canonically speaking, the decision to celebrate the traditional form of Mass is in the hands of the priest the reality - here in Scotland at any rate - is very different.

Fr Ray Blake said...

When bishops act outside the law, impeding the rights of the Supreme Pontiff and their priests, which is what Bp Copnti is doing, life is difficult. Here is a situation where the laity need to defend their priests and humbly request their rights.
Priest like to be obedient.

Volpius Leonius said...

"Most priest ordained in the last 30years have no Latin."

That is ultimately the Bishops fault is it not Father?

Can the Bishop not say the Mass if there are not enough Priests or can he not get a priest from the FFSP or one of the monastic orders who say TLM?

Could he not invite the priest who says the Latin Mass on a Saturday at St Peter’s 45 John St Shoreham by Sea, or at 4pm on a Friday at Holy Cross Priory Cross in Hand Heathfield or 3pm on every 2nd and 4th Sunday at Our Lady of Consolation Park Lane West Gr instead to instead say Mass on a Sunday morning at the Cathedral regularly every week?

If both Mases are equal; why is TLM not given an equal place on a Sunday morning and is instead given mid afternoon weekdays when no one who works could ever attend and irregular provision on Sunday Afternoons preventing a regular routine and therefore a regular attendance to build up.

If the Bishop is serious about providing the TLM it should be provided in the Cathedral before any other church in the diocese.

And understand this applies to all Bishops in general not just your own Father he may be less culpable than some you are in a better position to know that than me.

Fr Ray Blake said...

The priest at Holy Cross has just died, the priest at Shoreham has three Churches and already works 18 hour days, you can't seriously expect him to do more. FSSP now have only one priest in the south at Reading, he tends to regard catechesis of his community after Mass as being important. Monks tend to want to live in monasteries, it is part of the vocation and there aren't traditional monasteries in England.
I doubt whether the people of East Grinstead would travel to the Cathedral on Sunday.

PeterHWright said...

Yes, I'm afraid liturgical restoration in many churches involves putting things back the way they were before the 1970s "re-orderings". What a foolish and short-sighted and destructive fashion that was. It reminds me more of Puritans and Cromwellians than Catholics.

Fortunately, quite a number of churches in the USA have been doing just this. The before-and-after photos posted by NLM of these restorations in churches were literally everything had been torn out 30 years ago, were staggering.

It shows what can be done if you have the money to pay for it.

If Fr. Ray thinks of starting a restoration fund for St. Mary Magdalen's, I'd be very happy to contribute.

As to the shortage of priests able to celebrate the old Mass, I deeply sympathise with what Volpius and Simon have said, but you have to work with what you've got until times get better.

The wider question of mutual enrichment is a slighly different matter. We are not talking here only of priests who are idoneus. Any priest can borrow from the riches of the old Missal even if he does not celebrate the old Mass. And the sooner unambiguously Catholic liturgy returns to our churches the better !

Richard said...

"Here in Brighton at our monthly Sunday TLM the congregation is smaller than our weekday Masses"

Of course it doesn't - a monthly Mass is never going to attract the congregation that a weekly Mass does. Sadly we are creatures of habit, and although we can break out of the routine on occasion it is very difficult to live in a permanently irregular routine. Indeed having done it for a while it is hard in a busy family life to even remember when it is TLM Sunday!

No, the traditional Mass will never regain its place at the centre of our liturgical lives until it is offered every Sunday morning in many parishes.

But Father Blake is right, at the moment it is simply impossible to do anything like that.

So Damian is also right. Who are the only people who can provide training in sufficient quantities and encourage the priests to attend? The Bishops. That is their duty under S.P. Are they doing it? No.

Henry said...

I think it would be a very good idea to stop knocking the bishops if they are not actually standing in the way of celebration of the EF. Why make antagonism? We should just get on with things as best as we can. There is in any case a massive task to be done in getting the general mass of the laity to accept something so different from what a generation has become accustomed to.

Pax vobiscum.

Volpius Leonius said...

"if they are not actually standing in the way of celebration of the EF. Why make antagonism? "

One, they have been standing in the way for decades, people don't just forget a thing like that.

Two because even if they are just not doing anything they are holding back celebration of the EF. The Bishop has responsibilities and duties its not a position were just not doing anything is acceptable.

Remember the story of the servant who just buried his Masters gifts in the sand? Doing nothing can still be wrong.

I never said anything about priests doing more Father, they could however spend their time differently. I have seen the Mass times for the NO in your diocese you could easily sacrifice one of those to provide one regular Sunday Morning TLM. Just one is that to much to ask? Surely those who prefer the NO would be willing to make such a small sacrifice for their brothers and sisters?

And that is all I am asking for the opportunity for people to make their Sunday obligation attending a Latin Mass and to experience it on a regular, habitual basis.

I'm curious though if there is both a Bishop and one Priest at the Cathedral how many masses do they both say on a Sunday?

All we want is fairness and we are still not getting it, I still cannot make my Sunday obligation at the TLM but I have the choice of about 6 NO masses on a Sunday probably more.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Volpius, The bishop is rarely in his Cathedral, normally he is on visitation, or at a conference, or celebrating confirmation somewhere or abroad, sometimes he even supplies for his clergy.

Volpius Leonius said...

"The bishop is rarely in his Cathedral"

Well isn't that wrong?

Fr Ray Blake said...

No, it is not wrong. The Pope is rarely in his Cathedral, I think hardly ever celerates Sunday Mass there and rarely celebrates Sunday Mass in St Peter's.

What part of the bishops responsibility do you want him to neglect in order to double the Cathedral staff?

Henry said...

According to the Latin Mass Society there are two EF Masses in Newcastle/Gateshead every Sunday: sung at St Dominics, Newcastle at 11.30 and a low mass at St Joseph's Gateshead at noon. For others see the website of the Latin Mass Society.

There is a danger of losing sight of the essential fact that a Missa Normativa is a valid mass which fulfils the obligation.

Volpius Leonius said...

Your Bishop is not the Pope Father!

The Pope is responsible for the whole of the world your Bishop is only responsible for the diocese of Arundel & Brighton.

There is no reason I can think of why the Bishop cannot say a Sunday Mass early on a Sunday and then visit any of the parishes he wishes in the same day.

Confirmations can take place on weekday evenings like they generally do in my parish.

Conferences should not be scheduled for Sunday mornings.

And there is no reason why the Bishop should spend time abroad unless it is done at the request of the Pope.

"What part of the bishops responsibility do you want him to neglect in order to double the Cathedral staff?"

His primary responsibility is to provide the people of God with the sacraments, if he is not doing this he is already neglecting his responsibilities.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I am sure you are right.

Volpius Leonius said...

I don;t care about been right Father all I care about is to be able to attend a TLM on a Sunday.

It has been a year now and I cannot see that anything has been done, if there were problems a year ok what has been done in the last year to overcome them?